Erskine Childers, 1870-1922

Portrait

Biographical note

Author of the influential novel Riddle of the Sands. Based on his own sailing trips with his brother Henry along the German coast, it predicted war with Germany and called for British preparedness. There has been much speculation about which of Childers's friends was the model for "Carruthers" in the novel and it seems that he is based not on Henry Childers but on yachting enthusiast Walter Runciman; "Davies", of course, is Childers himself.

Widely popular, the book has never gone out of print and in 2003, a handful of centenary editions was published. The Observer has listed the book as #37 on its list of "The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time". It has been called the first spy novel (a claim challenged by advocates of Rudyard Kipling's Kim, published two years earlier), and enjoyed immense popularity in the years before World War I. It was an extremely influential book: Winston Churchill later credited it as a major reason that the Admiralty decided to establish naval bases at Invergordon, Rosyth on the Firth of Forth and Scapa Flow in Orkney. It was also a notable influence on John Buchan.

Childers became an Irish nationalist, and was executed by the authorities of the nascent Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War.

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